Forget the old-school stereotypes, like black skin's always oily. There's little about African-American skin that is safely assumed, except that it can be supersensitive — its pigmentation, called melanin, may rebel against the wrong products by developing a discoloration that can stick around for months or years.

Take these skin-safe tips to heart. The nation's top dermatologists advise following these rules to preserve your dark skin's smooth, rich tone:

  • Stick With a Simple and Safe Skin Care Routine. Cleanse your face daily — as little as once a day if it's dry, up to three times if your goal is to remove excess oil. Gentle treatment is key for any skin type — avoid abrasive cleansers or irritating cleansing puffs or loofahs. And use moisturizer only if your face feels dry without it.
  • Pick the Best Products for Your Skin Type. Experts' favorites are nothing fancy — drugstore brands will usually do — but use products designed for your skin type. Favor products for sensitive skin, especially if your skin is dry — products with harsh ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid can wreak havoc on certain skin types. Want to try something new on for size? Go ahead, but use it sparingly at first.
  • Protect Yourself From Skin Cancer. Darker skin does provide some protection from the sun's UV rays, but don't count on it alone. Skin cancer is less common, but can be more deadly, in those with darker skin. Begin each day by applying a sunscreen or moisturizer with an SPF 15 to 30. And reapply sun protection often while you're in direct sunlight.
  • Mind Your Skin When You're Taking Certain Medications. Many drugs increase sun sensitivity, making it especially important to apply sunscreen or avoid the sun altogether. Among these medications are birth control pills, antibiotics, acne medicines and cancer drugs. But there are many others, too. Ask your doctor if your medicine makes the list.
  • Get Help in a Hurry When Your Skin's in Distress. Whether your problem is acne or another condition, it's much easier to prevent problems from lingering if you address them promptly. A trip to the dermatologist might save your skin — and even save you money by preventing you from purchasing a panoply of products to wage the battle against the condition.
  • Avoid the Common Makeup Mistakes. Match your makeup with your skin tone for a natural look. "Makeup made especially for women of color has come a long way," says dermatologist Wendy Roberts, M.D., who adds there's nothing wrong with relatively cheap drugstore brands. Have dry skin? Oil-based makeup is best. And for acne-prone, oily skin, water-based is the way to go.
  • Seek Out a Specialist for Prescription Therapies or Cosmetic Surgery. When you want more advanced skin care than you can apply yourself at home, there are professional treatments that might help, both low- and high-tech. Whether you're thinking about a prescription acne drug, facial peel, microdermabrasion, laser treatment or other approach, ask around for an expert in treating dark skin. In inexperienced hands, these more complex skin therapies can end up ruining your look rather than rejuvenating it.